California consumer rights laws protect everybody who buys property or services in California. Consumer laws are intended to protect individuals from many different types of problems, including unfair advertising and deceptive trade practices, defective products, attempts to monopolize the market and blatant consumer fraud, like identity theft.
Given the broad swath covered by consumer rights, it is no surprise that protections are set out in a number of different laws, rather than in a single consumer rights act. These include, but are not limited to, California statutes prohibiting false advertising, lemon laws, antitrust laws and identity theft laws.
False Advertising Laws
California's law forbidding unfair competition is found in the state's Business and Professions Code, Sections 15200 and following sections. These statutes make it illegal for anyone selling products or services to publish false or deceptive statements in an attempt to lure consumers to buy. The law also prohibits anticompetitive practices, like selling below cost, in order to destroy competition.
The attorney general or a district attorney can ask a court for an injunction preventing any illegal business practice. A person who has been directly injured can also bring a suit for an injunction and for damages. Some of the false advertising practices can be prosecuted as misdemeanors, punishable by up to a year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500.
California Lemon Laws
The law commonly known as the California Lemon Law is actually the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act found in California Civil Code Section 1790 and following sections. It regulates manufacturers of all appliances, but is best known for protecting consumers who buy vehicles with problems – vehicles commonly known as "lemons."
This law requires vehicle manufacturers to repurchase or replace faulty vehicles if they can't repair them. The manufacturer is allowed a reasonable number of repair attempts. Although there is no set number for reasonable repair attempts, the law sets out guidelines for determining this.
The Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act covers new and used vehicles sold or leased in California as long as they have a manufacturer’s vehicle warranty. This includes not just cars, but also pickup trucks, vans and SUVs, as well as the chassis, chassis cab and drivetrain of a motor home. The vehicles protected are those used for personal, family or household purposes.
Read More: California Lemon Laws: Tanner Consumer Protection Act
Federal and State Antitrust Laws
Antitrust laws are intended to protect consumers by not letting any business corner the market in a way that precludes competition. These laws protect free trade from unfair restraints, monopolies and price fixing. Antitrust vigilance helps consumers by ensuring fair prices for goods and services, a range of products to choose from and innovative, quality goods and services.
The core antitrust laws are federal – the Sherman Act and the Clayton Act. California's complementary laws are found in the Cartwright Act, Business and Professions Code Section 16720 and following sections. These laws bar agreements among competitors that would fix prices or allocate customers or markets. California law offers a more detailed list of forbidden actions than that included in the federal law's general prohibitions against restraints of trade. The California Attorney General enforces antitrust laws by reviewing business mergers, investigating violations of the law and litigation.
California Identity Theft Laws
Identity theft is not per se a consumer protection issue, since every person is protected whether or not they are an actual consumer. However, most people buy things, which makes most people consumers. And usually someone stealing another person's identity does so to obtain credit, property or services in the name of another.
California's laws protecting against identity theft are found in the state's Penal Code Section 530.5 and following sections. An individual commits this crime by stealing another person's personal identifying information for use in an unlawful or fraudulent manner. It is a misdemeanor in California, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for a term of up to a year.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.